‘Station closure will hurt Israeli democracy, press’

Journalists, experts speak of ramifications if Channel 10 shuts down over debt to government.

Channel 10 logo_311 (photo credit:  Courtesy)
Channel 10 logo_311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The expected closure of Channel 10 will deter Israeli journalists from pursuing hard-hitting news that goes after Israeli politicians, a prominent journalist from the channel told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
“I know for a fact that right now people are scared to do such things [investigative reporting] because most of the media outlets in Israel are in a weak economic situation and need the government more than ever, and they don’t want to make them angry when they see that they can be so brutal,” said Channel 10 Reporter Raviv Druker, one of Israel’s most prominent journalists and one of the most recognized faces of the outlet.
Druker’s statement came a day after the Knesset Finance Committee voted eight-tofive against a request by Channel 10 to postpone by one year the repayment of an NIS 60 million debt to the state.
As a result of the vote, and if a sudden influx of funds does not emerge, the channel is expected to face closure and hundreds of employees will be without work.
Druker said the effect on the Israeli media landscape of the vote is that “[at] least in the short term, nobody will dare to establish a new news company – at least in the kind of sense of channel 10 – which means a critical news company, one that makes investigative reports on the PM or political officials.”
While he said that the vote would be a “disaster for Channel 10 and the people who work here,” Druker avoided making dramatic pronouncements of doom and gloom for Israel’s democracy, saying “Israeli democracy will be hurt by this but I don’t want to exaggerate and say it will make us a new Iran. I think it [Israel] will continue to be a democracy even if channel 10 is forced to shut down. But the scenario of a lack of real competition in the TV press is something we should avoid.”
He added that he sees a great importance in having more than one commercial news network in Israel.
Druker has been widely seen as one of the central figures in the decision on Channel 10’s debt, with many saying that his investigative reports on Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and his bureau, in particular the “Bibi tours” affair, drew the ire of the Likud-led government.
In a report in Haaretz in November an anonymous source at the channel said people within Netanyahu’s office were trying to force the channel to fire Druker.
Druker said he has no proof that the vote was personal, saying “everything I hear is from people who heard it from other sources. As far as I know there are all types of messages that related this crisis to my work.”
Shuki Tausig, editor of the 7th Eye, an Israeli website that critiques Israeli mass media, said that he believes that a source of money will be found and Channel 10 will not close, but that if it does, Israeli journalism will suffer.
“I don’t believe that it [Ch.
10] will close, but if it happens, it’s one less place for investigative journalism – one less place for commentary – less democracy, if you like.”
Tausig did add that he believes the channel is an asset that is worth enough money, and with too much influence, to close without someone wanting to take it under their wing.
He also said he wasn’t convinced that the Channel 10 saga represents a clear case of an anti-democratic campaign waged by the government.
“I don’t think that it’s antidemocratic, there are many people who are saying this and there are those who are saying there is a political agenda behind it, but no one has brought a smoking gun to prove this.”
He also warned that there is potential danger that a wellmoneyed savior could swoop in and save the channel, as a means of opening a channel of influence with the government.
Dr. Yuval Karniel, a senior lecturer at the Sammy Ofer School of Communications at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya and an expert on media policy, law and ethics in the media, and commercial advertising, said Monday’s vote is part of a broader campaign of anti-democratic measures targeting the Israeli media.
“What we see now is, in my opinion, part of the battle being waged between politicians and the media and we see this not only with channel 10 but also in regard to the [reforms facing the] Israel Broadcasting Authority, Israel Educational Television, the slander law, is part of this general picture of an attack on independent, free media [in Israel].”
Karniel said however that he isn’t convinced the government is looking to close Channel 10, rather “it could be that the goal is simply to deter journalists and news outlets from independent, critical work against the country’s leadership and politicians.”
Karniel said the motivation for such a campaign could be what he described as a marked rise in media influence on daily life in recent years.
“I think politicians saw the power of the media and how it can enlist the masses and they asked the question: Who leads the country; the elected officials, or the media which has achieved great power? And many people have reached the conclusion that they [the media] must be reined in, and they must show the media outlets that they are not more powerful than the leadership.”
Karniel did lay much of the blame for the situation on Channel 10 however, saying that they erred by putting themselves in a position where they were reliant on the charity of the government, and that hopefully if they are closed, the next media outlet that takes their place will learn from these mistakes.